Tagged: Rays

The Sunday Scuttlebutt: Goodbye and Farewell

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Baseball’s amateur draft, slated to begin a week from Tuesday, would carry
far more luster if Major League Baseball would change its antiquated rules
preventing teams from trading draft choices. All of the other sports allow
draft choices to be traded, except for baseball, which continues to operate
under the fear that agents like Scott Boras would demand trades for clients
drafted by undesirable teams. (What teams don’t seem willing to admit is that Boras already tries to redirect players by refusing to sign contracts
with their drafting teams, thus enabling those players to re-enter the draft
the following year.) By allowing teams to trade draft picks both during and
after the selection process, MLB would accomplish two objectives. First, the
occurrence of draft-day trades would jazz up the festivities on June 9,
bringing more publicity to an event that is currently only followed by draft
diehards. (Imagine the stir that would be caused if the Nationals traded their
No. 1 pick, essentially the rights to uberprospect right-hander Stephen Strasburg,
to a team like the Phillies for three or four prospects.) Second, with so many
contending teams reluctant to deal their near-ready major league prospects for
short-term fixes, they would instead be able to substitute draft choices in
dealing for veteran players who can provide immediate help in the pennant race.
We would therefore see far more trades between now and the July 31st
deadline, spicing up what has become a lackluster trading season in recent
years…

 

Even with a healthy Brett Myers, the Phillies needed to add
another starter to make a successful run at their second-straight National
League East title. With Myers likely out for the season because of looming
labrum surgery on his hip, the need has only intensified. Heck, the Phillies
may have to add two starters to a core of starters that features ace Cole
Hamels, Joe “Bulldog” Blanton, and the sphinx-like Jamie Moyer, who just won
his 250th game. That threesome simply is not good enough to win the
East, especially with the Mets looming…

 

The hype attached to this week’s recall of super prospect
Matt Wieters by the Orioles is like nothing I’ve seen since the Rangers brought
David Clyde to the major leagues immediately after he was drafted out of high
school in 1974. In a way, I feel bad for Wieters, who has been praised to the
point that we expect him to become Carlton Fisk, Joe Mauer, and Ted Simmons all
rolled into one. Wieters will probably develop into a very fine player, perhaps
a great one, but it is quickly becoming impossible to scale the Mt. Everest
of expectations that has been created by so many talent evaluators and
prospects gurus. Let the young man breathe a little bit…

 

Not long ago, David Dellucci was a productive platoon player
capable of hitting for power, drawing walks, and fielding any of the three
outfield positions. On Friday, the Indians designated Dellucci for assignment,
a prelude to what will probably be his unconditional release. Based upon the
laments of Indians fans who have watched him stagger through the last season
and a half, Dellucci’s career looks to be cooked. He can’t hit, run, or field
at a competent level anymore, not even well enough to play regularly for an
Indians team crying for help in the outfield corners…

 

You know the first-place Yankees are doing well when Mike
Lupica makes only two references to them in his Sunday “Shooting From The Lip”
series of one-liners. If the Yankees were still struggling, as they did for the
first month of the season, every other segment of Lupica’s “column” would
feature some kind of potshot against the organization. The pattern has become
oh-so predictable from the guy who has been paid to hate the Yankees for over
30 years…

 

In a season filled with injury, disappointment, and general
underperformance, the A’s have found a bright spot in the play of veteran
second baseman Adam Kennedy. Acquired from the Rays as a replacement for the
perennially injured Mark Ellis, Kennedy is hitting .400 with five stolen bases
since being anointed the interim pivotman for Oakland. The Rays must be kicking themselves
for dumping Kennedy in a cash deal, especially after they lost Akinori Iwamura
to injury for the balance of the season. Tampa’s
unsettled second base situation is one of just several problem areas, in
addition to the season-long slump of Pat Burrell and the injury- ravaged
bullpen, where journeyman sidewinder Randy Choate is now receiving chances to
close games…

 

 

***

 

These words will mark my final musings for MLBlogs. After an
eventful and fruitful four-year run as the author of this blog, I’ve decided to
pack up the laptop and move to another venue. I want to thank at least some of
the people who have helped me along the way, such as Mark Newman, who has
provided guidance and assistance since my first article appeared here in May of
2005. Jacob Wilson has also helped by providing technical assistance, a
necessity for someone who is as computer ignorant as me. Additionally, I must
mention the contributions of those who have posted comments, along with the
loyalty of the readers, a small but dedicated group who have motivated and
supported my efforts. I hope you have all enjoyed the writing here, a product
of hard work and an undying love for our great game.

 

I will continue to write for Alex Belth’s Bronx Banter, but
beginning this week, I will be writing a weekly article for The Hardball Times,
an outstanding web site featuring original in-depth comment. I will also be
contributing periodically to the site’s new blog, THT Live. So beginning this
Friday, you can find my writing at www.thehardballtimes.com.
I hope that at least some of our readers and posters will follow us over there
while continuing to support some of the good people here at MLB, like Bronx
Banter, Julia’s Rants, The Newberg Report, and Curt Smith’s Voices of the Game.

 

So it is time to bid goodbye and farewell, but hopefully
only until the next adventure begins in a new location. See you at The Hardball
Times.

 

Sincerely,

 

Bruce Markusen

“Cooperstown Confidential”

Cooperstown,
NY

 

 

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World Series Notebook–October 30, 2008

This World Series will not go down as a classic–the Series really has to go six or seven games to achieve such status–but as five-game Series go, this was one of the best. Outside of Game Four, all of the games were competitive, close, and entertaining, even if the lateness of the games here on the East Coast continued to be a drag on World Series enthusiasm. Three of the Phillies’ four victories came by one run, which means that with a slight turn of fortune here and there, the Rays could have easily extended this to seven games, if not won it outright. But the Phillies pitched a little better, played much better defensively, and ran the bases far more wisely, giving themselves a much deserved world championship…

Chase Utley’s fake throw to first base, and follow-up throw to home to nail Jason Bartlett, will be remembered as one of the most cerebral plays in postseason history, right up there with Derek Jeter’s flip toss against the A’s in 2001. But let’s not blame Bartlett for the end result here. According to every analyst in attendance at the game, Bartlett never saw Utley’s pump fake to first. Rather, Bartlett was simply following the cue of his third base coach, who waved him on in an attempt to score. Already a great hitter to begin with, Utley has succeeded in enhancing his reputation as one of the headiest players in the game. Is there any second baseman that you’d rather have than Utley right now? I can’t think of one…

As well as Joe Maddon guided the Rays through their season of surpasses expectations, he did not manage one of his better games in the fifth game clincher. I thought he pulled Grant Balfour too quickly and then stayed with JP Howell too long, actually allowing him to come to bat in the top of the seventh inning. With a rested bullpen at his disposal and the season on the line, Maddon needed to pull out all the stops, including the use of pinch-hitters for his relief pitchers. Instead, Maddon managed like he was the one who was up three games to one, as the Rays fell just a bit short against Brad Lidge in the ninth inning…

Finally, a world championship for the Phillies brings to me my good friend, Don Casey, who died far too young a year and a half ago. A former Hall of Fame employee and the ultimate Phillies fan, one who stayed faithful to the cause during the many lean years that came after 1980, Don is probably smiling widely from above right now. For me, that’s what I’ll always think about most when I remember these championship Phillies of 2008. 

World Series Notebook–October 27, 2008

After three highly competitive games that had done well to entertain most of the country, the World Series saddled us with a stinker on Sunday night. The Phillies’ 10-2 blowout lacked the sustained drama of the first three games, but may have marked the turning point in the Series. If the Rays had won, they would have guaranteed themselves a return trip to Florida; as it is, they are now fighting for their postseason lives while facing the unenviable project of having to defeat Cole Hamels on his home turf. It doesn’t look good for the Rays, though it certainly didn’t look good after they lost Game Six to the Red Sox, forcing them to beat Jon Lester the next day.

The Rays’ problems have been easy to diagnose. Their No. 3 and No. 4 hitters–Carlos Pena and Evan Longoria–have combined to go hitless through the first four games of the Series. Their starting pitching has been an utter disappointment, with Matt Garza and Andy Sonnanstine falling flat the last two games. And their defense continues a recent mysterious fade, after looking so strong in the early days of the postseason. Akinori Iwamura’s mishandling of a leadoff ground ball was the latest malfeasance, setting up an early unearned run for the Phillies.

In the meantime, the Phillies have solved their hitting woes with one fell swoop. On Sunday night, the Phils rapped out four hits with runners in scoring position, quadrupling their total from the first three games. Ryan Howard has simultaneously emerged from a postseason batting slump with three home runs in his last two games, including two dingers and five RBIs in the Game Four blowout. Jimmy Rollins is now hitting like the 2007 MVP edition, making life much easier for Jayson Werth, Chase Utley, and Howard.

So is there any way that the Phillies can be stopped? Of course they can. Hamels is due for a bad start, Longoria and Pena are due for a few hits, and the speed of B.J. Upton (when he wants to run) and Carl Crawford remain constant sources of concern for Philadelphia. But the Rays will need a stellar effort from Scott Kazmir, who has the ability to neutralize Utley and Howard and will force Rollins to swing from the right side. If Kazmir can at least match Hamels on the scoreboard, the Rays might be able to make David Price a factor again over the final three innings.

If not, then this World Series will end almost quickly as all the other Fall Classics have been doing since 2003.  Though I’m still rooting for the Phillies, the baseball fan in me wants to see the Rays pull out a win on Monday and push this Series to Wednesday in Tampa.

World Series Notebook–October 26, 2008

Evan Longoria is taking some heat for his decision not to allow Carlos Ruiz’ game-winning grounder to go foul at the end of Game Three, but I think the criticism is a bit over the top. First off, no one can be sure that Ruiz’ ground ball would have gone foul. It looked like it might have, but in that situation a player has to be sure, and there’s no way that Longoria could have been given the distance between the ball and the foul line. Some of Longoria’s critics have also overlooked an important consideration: if Longoria’s throw had been true, he would have retired lead runner Eric Bruntlett at the plate. When all was said and done, Longoria made the right decision, if not perfect execution, on what amounted to a difficult play…. 

Given the Phillies’ monumental struggles with runners in scoring position–stunningly, they have only once hit in such situations through three games– it’s rather remarkable they’ve taken a lead of two games to one in the World Series. The Phillies can thank the quality of their left-handed starting pitchers, with both Cole Hamels and the ageless Jamie Moyer turning in gems, and the power their batters displayed with the bases empty in Game Three. Still, the Phillies will have to step up their situational hitting if they are to complete a World Series win over the resilient Rays…

Baserunning continues to be astonishingly bad in this World Series. In the bottom of the eighth inning, Jayson Werth (representing the go-ahead run in the game) managed to get himself picked off at second base with only one man out. Werth joins Tampa Bay’s Carlos Pena and B.J. Upton as baserunning goats in the Series…

I was a bit surprised that Joe Maddon didn’t pinch-hit for Gabe Gross in the ninth inning of Saturday night’s game. With left-hander J.C. Romero on the mound and Gross struggling monumentally since mid-September, a move to use a pinch-hitter like Rocco Baldelli seemed logical. Maddon did use a pinch-hitter later in the inning when he called on Ben Zobrist, but by then, there were already two men out and no one on base, which dramatically reduced the Rays’ chances of scoring. Baldelli never did get in the game, despite the fact that he has put together some excellent at-bats during the postseason. 

World Series Notebook–October 23, 2008

As much as anything, bad baserunning did in the Rays in Game One of the World Series. The enigmatic B.J. Upton continued to display his atrocious habit of lackadaisical effort on the basepaths, not once but twice failing to run hard on batted balls that resulted in double plays. I’ve talked ad nauseam about Upton this year, but it is absolutely unfathomable that a major league player would fail to run out batted balls on the ultimate stage of the World Series. In response to the Upton apologists who have tried to rationalize his indefensible lack of hustle, I have to ask: what in the world is Upton conserving his energy for? The season has a maximum of six games to go; there’s no reason not to run out every batted ball the rest of the way, no matter where on the field it is hit. Unbelievable.

Then there was the hard-to-figure baserunning of Carlos Pena in the sixth inning. After Pena reached on a leadoff gift by Ryan Howard–a groundball that he fumbled twice before throwing to first base late–Pena got caught leaning by Cole Hamels, who threw to Howard, who in turn made a good throw to second base. I’m not sure why Pena was even contemplating a stolen base in that situation. He’s has average speed to begin with, plus the Rays had the middle of the order coming up with no one out. Pena’s faux pas erased what turned out to be the Rays’ best scoring opportunity over the final four innings. That’s because Ryan “Mad Dog” Madson, once again throwing in the high 90s, and closer Brad Lidge were virtually unhittable over the final two frames, cementing a 3-2 win for the Phillies in Game One…

On paper, the Rays appear to have the advantage in Game Two, with James “Big Game” Shields rating the nod over the up-and-down Brett Myers. It’s practically a must-win game for the Rays, who would otherwise be staring down the barrell of a two-game deficit, with both losses coming before their frenetic fans at Tropicana Field…

Shields’ presence on the mound will allow Greg Dobbs to make his first start of the Series as the DH. He’s already one of the game’s best pinch-hitters, and might become Philadelphia’s everyday left fielder in 2009–assuming that Pat “The Bat” Burrell signs elsewhere as a free agent…

In the meantime, Joe Maddon is making an interesting choice in right field for Game Two. Even though a right-hander is on the mound for the Phils, Maddon’s opting for Rocco Baldelli over the left-handed hitting Gabe Gross. That means that Gross and Ben Zobrist will both be available as pinch-hitters late, which could give Maddon some extra options in the late innings of a close game against Madson and Lidge. If Maddon needs a pinch-hitter for Jason Bartlett late, he’ll certainly have his choice of a good one. 

Postseason Notebook–October 22, 2008

More than anything, baseball needs a long and competitive World Series. Remarkably, we haven’t had anything other than four and five-game Series since 2003, when the Marlins and Yankees played a six-game Series. And we haven’t had a classic Series since 2002, when the Angels pulled off their late-inning miracle in Game Seven against the Giants. Let’s hope that the Phillies and the Rays, at the very least, can give us a six or seven-game event that isn’t a foregone conclusion by Game Three…

The Phillies face perhaps the most intriguing strategical dilemma as the Series approaches. Who will DH for them in Games One and Two, which will be played at Tropicana Field, the American League home site? Greg Dobbs, one of the game’s best pinch-hitters, is the obvious choice for Game Two, when the Rays will throw a right-hander at the Phillies. But what about Game One, which will feature Tampa Bay southpaw Scott Kazmir. In my mind, the best option would be to play supersub Chris Coste at first base and move Ryan Howard to DH. That way, if the Phillies need to pinch-hit for starting catcher Carlos Ruiz late in the game, they can move Coste behind the plate without losing their DH for the rest of the game. Coste is also a far better hitter than either So Taguchi or Eric Bruntlett, who represent the two other right-handed options for Charlie Manuel…

I keep reading that scouts feel the Rays have the better bench than the Phillies, but I don’t see it. Coste is a much better backup catcher than Michael Hernandez, and Dobbs is the best pinch-hitter on either team. Furthermore, the Phillies have an excellent power bat in Matt Stairs, who will be available to pinch-hit in the late innings of all seven games. As for the Rays, they have two good platoons going in right field and DH, which will give them two solid pinch-hitting options each night. After those two players (coming from a group of Rocco Baldelli, Gabe Gross, Willy Aybar, and Cliff Floyd), the Rays also have the versatile Ben Zobrist, which probably puts their bench on equal footing with the Phillies, but not better…

All in all, this is a tough Series to call. The Rays compiled the better record this season against tougher competition, but the Phillies have the best pitcher in Cole Hamels, and a bullpen that is better and deeper than the Rays, even with the David Price factor being included. So let’s go with the Phillies in seven, with most of the games being decided by three runs or fewer. 

Postseason Notebook–October 20, 2008

The Tampa Bay Rays have themselves a new closer–along with their first American League pennant!

On Sunday, the Rays did what probably 85 per cent of baseball fans thought they would not do, and that is win a Game Seven against a steamrolling Red Sox team featuring its ace, Jon Lester. Among others, Rays manager Joe Maddon redeemed himself for that awful collapse in Game Five. Maddon managed the eighth inning of Game Seven as if it was the ninth inning–and that is exactly what he should have done considering that the Red Sox had the heart of the order batting. After relieving a tired Matt Garza and replacing him with Dan Wheeler to start the inning, Maddon played the matchups throughout the fateful frame. He skillfully used JP Howell, Chad Bradford, and David Price, taking away Boston’s platoon advantage whenever possible, And then Maddon showed true grit in the ninth, when he left the inexperienced Price, who has less than a year of pro ball on his resume, on the mound to finish off the game. Price has the best stuff of anyone on the Rays’ staff–and that includes Garza and Scott Kazmir–making him the best option to handle the bottom of the Sox’ order. Price will also become the Rays’ principal closer in the upcoming Series against the Phillies.

Along with Maddon, I feel especially good for Rocco Baldelli, who drove in the game-winning run for the Rays in the bottom of the fifth. No major league player has suffered the swarm of injuries and illness that has plagued Baldelli, a onetime top prospect whose career seemed over at more than one juncture this year. We now know that the former comparisons to Joe DiMaggio are ridiculous, but Baldelli still has a chance to become a serviceable major league outfielder. He can play all three outfield positions, has legitimate power, and has shown little fear throughout this postseason. Outside of Phillies fans, just about all of America will be rooting for Baldelli in this World Series.  

As for the Red Sox, another incredible postseason comeback ended because of their inability to hit after the first inning of Game Seven. After Dustin Pedroia’s early home run against Garza, the Sox managed exactly one hit the remainder of the night. The Red Sox’ hitters still grinded out at-bats in typical Soxian fashion, fouling off pitch after pitch with two strikes, but they simply could not finish off those at-bats with a sufficient number of hits and walks. The Red Sox were also done in by the lack of right-handed bats available to pinch-hit in the ninth. Mark Kotsay, allowed to bat against Price, went down easily, as did Jed Lowrie, the replacement for Alex Cora. Here’s where the Red Sox may regret their decision to carry three catchers in the series, including two light-hitting backups.

With the Red Sox eliminated, the World Series ratings will suffer, but diehard fans of the game probably care little about the lament of television executives. Those fans will now prepare for what appears to be a very even matchup, featuring two franchises with a grand total of one world championship between them. Well, that total will double over the next 10 to 12 days.